Obama boasts support of American people in ‘fiscal cliff’ fight

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

As Congress races to pass legislation before the Jan. 1 "fiscal cliff" deadline, President Barack Obama in an interview which aired Sunday publicly touted the support of the American people for the plan he offered to Republicans.

"We have put forward not only a sensible deal, but one that has the support of the majority of the American people including close to half of Republicans," the president told NBC "Meet the Press" host David Gregory in a taped interview.

The president said the American people support raising taxes on the wealthiest earners-- something the Republicans have staunchly opposed as a means to generate revenue and reduce the nation's deficit.

"At a certain point, if folks can’t say 'yes' to good offers, than I also have an obligation to the American people to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn't fall on seniors who are relying on Medicare... families who rely on Medicaid to take care of a disabled child" and middle class families, he said. "There is a basic fairness that is at stake in this whole thing."

Obama held firm to his demands Sunday, blaming congressional Republicans for the failure to reach a deal to avoid the automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to go into effect Jan. 1.

The president conceded that markets will be adversely affected if America "goes over" the fiscal cliff, as Gregory phrased it.

"Businesses and investors are going to feel more negative about the economy," the president said, adding that employment will also "tick down."  "But what’s been holding us back has been the dysfunction here in Washington."

Obama took no responsibility for that dysfunction in the interview, and repeated his argument that Republican leaders have difficulty "saying yes" to the president and are rejecting the desires of the American public.

Republicans say their "biggest priority" is the nation's debt, the president said, "but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected."

The president announced Friday that he had tasked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell this weekend with producing a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff before the Jan. 1 deadline.

The president remained optimistic that in the short term, congressional leaders can pass legislation to prevent tax increases on the middle class ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline. "That's something we all can agree on," he said.

Passing legislation to protect middle class tax rates will "take a big bite out of the fiscal cliff," the president said, leaving Congress to deal with the remainder of deficit reduction, spending and tax issues in the future.

Pivoting to his future final term in office, the president reconfirmed his commitment to gun control and other legislative action to prevent shooting tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"I’d like to get it done in the first year," he said.

When asked, Obama expressed doubt about the National Rifle Association's proposal to place armed security in every school in America to protect students and teachers.

"I’m not going to pre-judge recommendations given to me," Obama said. "But I'm skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools."

The president also conceded that the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya weren't ideal.

“There was just some sloppiness" in how we secure some embassies, he said and pledged to follow recommendations offered by the review board.

"We're not going to pretend that this was not a problem. This was a huge problem. And we're going to implement every single recommendation that's been put forward," he said.